Design & DIY

This cottager restored a little cabin on the bay and filled it with her favourite things

Heather Rice’s family has serious cred in Red Bay, a quiet, lakefront town 15 minutes away from the buzzier Sauble Beach, Ont. Her great-grandparents bought a cottage there 100 years ago, and it was the backdrop to Heather and her two siblings’ best summer memories. “We know everyone on the point, and it’s so neat to have my kids appreciate how I grew up, and my mom before me, and her mom before her,” she says.

When the pandemic first hit, Heather, her husband, Lyndon Swing, and their three kids—Estelle, Mabel, and Walter— were at her parents’ cottage for March Break. “We basically didn’t leave,” she says. The extended stay gave them time to think. “My parents’ cottage is lovely, but having multiple families on top of each other isn’t always the best thing. We wondered, ‘Maybe we should have our own little place?’ ” Heather, who works for her family’s development company, and Lyndon started to scour MLS for a property nearby that would live up to Heather’s idyllic cottage memories.

At first glance, this rundown bungalow that had been listed for a while wasn’t it. Though she knew the area well, Heather couldn’t put her finger on the exact location, and the photos were less than enticing; she declared it a dump and moved on. But then, a friend who’d visited the place convinced Heather to give it a chance. She stepped inside, and it felt like home. “Right away, it smelled like an old cottage,” she says. “I know that’s a turnoff for some people, but it was a little musty and woody and reminded me of my grandma.”

The cottage’s wood panelling and 1950s aesthetic hadn’t been touched, and Heather immediately began picturing cheery colours, retro furniture, and quirky accents. “It called out for a nod to the director Wes Anderson—how it feels dated, but in a good way.”

The extended six-month closing gave Heather time to collect. Pandemic lockdowns meant she couldn’t visit her favourite flea markets, so she became an expert online researcher, hunting down vintage-looking hardware on Etsy, wall-mounted sinks from the U.K., and even a vintage-inspired pink toilet seat from Home Depot. “We pretty much renovated a cottage online,” she says with a laugh.

Though the couple prioritized keeping everything worth saving, they did a major refresh of the “super gross” main cottage bathroom, then renovated the garage to accommodate a new principal bedroom and half-bath.

As Heather and Lyndon’s basement in Oakville, Ont., slowly filled with stuff, Heather realized the cottage had become more than just a fun project. “It gave me something to focus on, and it grounded us during a difficult time,” she says. “The cottage allowed us to imagine spending happy days here in the future, and we needed that.”

Hunt like Heather

Her finds are the product of months—and in some cases, years—of scouring, and each one tells a story. Click the image below to learn more about some of Heather’s most notable finds.

Beth Hitchcock is a design contributor to The Globe and Mail. She also wrote “A Trailer-Made Fit” for our Aug/Sept ’21 issue.

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